TO LISTEN TO CURRENT OR PAST SHOWS, CHECK OUT THE LET'S TALK TRAVEL PODCAST PAGE! CLICK HERE
Check out Sandy's ongoing Patriot-News special travel features. Go to www.PennLive.com/travel - look for "Fenton's Favorites."
ALL SHOWS ARE SATURDAY 3PM-4PM
SATURDAY, MAY 18TH, 3PM-4PM - "PA TOURISM SUMMIT, Part 2 of 2" Our beautiful Commonwealth of Pennsylvania offers both residents and visitors a wide variety of unique travel opportunities. From world-class entertainment to all-season indoor and outdoor sporting and recreational activities to getaway weekends at cozy B&B's and historic country inns. Pennsylvania has it all! Big city celebrity chef fine-dining or small town mom and pop restaurants specializing in traditional local foods. Pennsylvania offers any escape or adventure imaginable. Tourism is more than a vibrant industry in Pennsylvania...it is critical to the economic well-being of our state...and our lives. Tourism ranks as the second-largest industry in Pennsylvania - accounting for more than 452,300 jobs. In 2011, visitors spent more than $37.2 -billion dollars and generated over $3.8 -billion in state and local taxes. Next Saturday you can discover why 175-million people travel to and within our Commonwealth as "Let's Talk Travel with AAA" features the third annual Pennsylvania Tourism Summit with part two of a two-part series broadcast. Interviews include Kim Schaller, the executive vice president of the Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Company ; Mark Preston, Northeast sales manager for Trip-Advisor ; Michael Stershic, President of Discover Lehigh Valley ; Joseph Meade, Director of Government & External Affairs for Philadelphia Museum of Art ; Jim Werner, Partnership Director for Visit Philly and Joe Massaro, General Manager of Hilton Harrisburg. Pennsylvania has spectacular natural scenery, popular cosmopolitan cities , historic towns , rolling farmlands and more award-winning museums, cultural events and seasonal festivals than I can count. We will tell you what to see and do during your next local getaway or statewide family vacation in the Keystone State. www.patravelandtourism.org
SATURDAY, MAY 25TH, 3PM-4PM - "The All-Inclusive Regent Seven Seas Cruise Experience" Having recently returned from extensive Bahamas/Caribbean cruises, travel events and site inspections - I learned that the best value for upcoming summer and fall vacations may be the excellent discounts, particularly in the luxury travel brands. One of the best is the all-inclusive luxury cruise market and one of my favorites, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, continues to offer exceptional values on many worldwide sailings. Regent Seven Seas is an award-winning , all-suite , all-inclusive cruise line with three luxurious mid-sized ships (Seven Seas Voyager, Seven Seas Mariner and Seven Seas Navigator), carrying 490 or 700 pampered guests, to some of the most glamorous and off-the-beaten-path places on the planet. Some of Regent's all-inclusive experiences include roundtrip air, unlimited shore excursions, pre-paid gratuities, specialty restaurants, unlimited beverages plus open bars, lounges and in-suite mini-bar replenished daily…and so much more. Kate Otto, Regent Seven Seas sales director, will be my in-studio guest next Saturday at 3 p.m. on "Let's Talk Travel with AAA" on WHP-AM580. Before you settle for the "same old - same old" vacation, be sure to tune in and learn why a Regent Seven Seas cruise may be a perfect fit for you.
Listen To Past Shows:
TO LISTEN TO FUTURE SHOWS, CHECK OUT THE LET'S TALK TRAVEL PODCAST PAGE! CLICK HERE
Captain Ron Neilsen, a former commercial airline pilot and best selling author of THE FEARLESS FLIGHTKIT-REMEDY FOR A FEARFUL FLYER joins us again to help people overcome their fear of flying.
In this video, Captain Ron shows me and demonstrates a new device, The Fearless Flight Harmonizer that travelers can use when flying to help ease their nerves.
To learn more visit www.fearlessflight.com
Q - I want to suprise my wife with a ultra-luxury cruise on a small ship without kids and massive crowds. What do you recommend?
A - I recommend Seabourn.
With six vessels to choose from, ranging from just 104 suites or 225 suites, Seabourn looks (and feels) like a luxurious private club.
The moment you step onboard your intimate Seabourn ship and are greeted with a warm smile and delicious ice-cold champagne - you will feel the indulgence and pampering. It is a world all on its own.
If unique itineraries and gourmet dining is important to you, then you're in luck. Seabourn sails to the world's must-see cities and hidden off-the-path gems and the dining rivals the best restaurants I've ever experienced.
As I write this column, I am onboard the stunning Seabourn "Quest" anchored in the Carribean's posh port of St. Barts. I may not go ashore. Why would anyone want to get off this ship... it is perfect. The attention to detail, the gracious service and the spacious, all-suite accommodations are just the tip of the iceberg.
Seabourn is an all-inclusive cruise line with open bars throughout the ship, a in-suite refriderator stocked with your favorite beverages and fine wines poured at lunch and dinner.
The well-traveled onboard guests are mostly past passengers and several first-time cruisers with the average age on our Caribbean voyage at 50-55.
The clientelle are well-heeled and well-dressed but not stuffy or formal. The atmosphere is polite and friendly.
Over the years I have cruised onboard the smaller Seabourn ships, and loved every moment. But in my opinion, Seabourn's "Quest" takes the cake. An incredible amount of space per guest, more signature restaurants, open bars and lounges and the very popular "Seabourn Square" featuring a specialty coffee bar, library and computer center.
If you're looking for a ultra-luxurious adult oriented cruise vacation, Seabourn should be a terrific match for you.
Your AAA cruise expert will be able to tell you all about Seabourn's special savings and promotional fares for 2013/2014.
Americans choose travel as the ultimate life goal. According to several group polls and surveys, if Americans could only accomplish one goal in their lifetime, 72% would choose a travel goal. (Wakefield Research Poll)
And that's not all. A recent MMGY Global & Harrison group survey claims more leisure travelers traveled with children in 2011 and 2012 than ever before.
And why not?
Studies have shown that despite economic woes, Americans are still unwilling to totally give up their vacations.
We want to give (and receive) lifelong cherished memories and exciting new experiences with the people who matter most to us. The value of a shared, personal experience - such as a family vacation - offer greater value than material buys.
Many of us are searching for ways to buy holiday gifts that won't break, fade in the wash, collect dust , or go out of fashion.
And no matter what our income level is, we all want a good value for our travel dollar.
Whether it's a relaxing close-to-home weekend getaway ; a high-energy city escape ; a one week family cruise to the Caribbean ; or a romantic European river cruise - they are all on sale and would make the perfect gift…I promise!
Here are a few of my favorites for this holiday season :
**For busy couples needing a break -
Right in our own backyard, the beautiful and historic Hotel Hershey offers total relaxation with spa and romance packages. "Chocolate Covered February" is a popular month-long celebration kicking off with the always-delicious "Chocolate-Covered dinner and overnights at both the Hotel Hershey and Hershey Lodge. Remember, your days are numbered if you want to have dinner 'one more time' in the iconic Circular Dining Room - so make your reservations now. (Dinner at the Hotel Hershey followed by a Broadway show at the Hershey Theatre - what a great stocking stuffer!) www.hotelhershey.com
Down the road from Hershey, in Lancaster County, you'll find one of my favorite hidden gems - "The Inn and Suites at Leola Village". Fine dining at their new restaurant "TE", is an indulgent experience all on its own, but coupled with one of their romance packages is a well-deserved break from reality. www.theinnatleolavillage.com
If you can't get away for an overnight, how about one of the "Winter Wine Makers Dinners" in The Golden Sheaf at Hilton Harrisburg, but if you can extend your stay, the Hilton will offer special wine dinner room rates. www.hiltonharrisburgdining.com
**For crazed wives, stressed-out moms and girlfriend getaways -
Recognized as one of the best resorts in the country, elegant Bedford Springs presents several popular spa and golf packages less than 2-hours from Harrisburg. www.bedfordspringsresort.com
If it's wellness and over-the-top spa treatments you want (and your body is craving), the stunning Lodge at Woodloch (considered one of the top 10 spa destinations in the US) has it all. www.thelodgeatwoodloch.com
Recently renovated, the legendary Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, VA is a winter wonderland where you can take a dip in the steamy waters at the heated, spring-fed outdoor pool surrounded by the glorious mountain landscape...talk about escaping the real world. www.homesteadresort.com
**For everyone -
Do you love the idea of an exciting city break with renown celebrity chef dining; famous historical sites; designer shopping and cultural events? First quarter of the year (January thru March) brings fantastic hotel deals in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC and New York City. Typically, these energetic cities offer the best bang-for-the-buck on the weekends, including Sunday nights.
All popular chain motels and hotels, from the budget-minded and family friendly Hampton Inns to the luxurious and well-heeled Four Seasons - ( and everything in between) - are located in these cities. I recommend calling your hotel of choice directly and inquiring about all winter getaway packages and current promotions. Now is the time to ask about upgrades, free parking, comp meals and sightseeing tickets. Be sure to mention if you have any travel club affiliation, such as AAA, and have your membership number available.
Is skiing, ice-skating or tobogganing something you are looking to do? There are several affordable Pocono Mountains ski and sports getaways at a variety of lodging options. www.800poconos.com. A Fenton family favorite for 23-years is the all-inclusive, traditional and gracious Skytop Lodge. Complete with dog-sledding and a treetop adventure course - your entire family will love exploring this 5,500 pristine acre mountain estate. (mid-week rates offer the best discounts.) www.skytop.com
Of course we can't forget the "Happiest Place on Earth". Yes, that's really how Disney wants to be known. Not sure if I totally agree, but if planned the right way, with a Disney expert, you'll definitely be happier than someone who doesn't have a plan. (My favorite time to visit is the middle to end of January. Better pricing, fewer crowds and no lines.) January is "Disney Month" at AAA and I recommend planning your Disney vacation with an official AAA Disney expert for the best value and experience. www.aaa.com
All cruise lines are on sale with outstanding 2013 promotions, special incentives and value. If you are ready to "bump it up" or want to take the cruise vacation of a lifetime - your overall best value is on an all-inclusive, ultra-luxury cruise ship. Regent Seven Seas (www.rssc.com) , Silversea (www.silversea.com) and Seabourn (www.seabourn.com) are currently running some of the best offers I've ever seen. Particular savings can be found on Asia, South America, European and Caribbean voyages. Sailing onboard these elegant cruise lines is unlike any other experience at sea, but they are not for everyone and every preference. You need to talk with a seasoned cruise expert so you are given true comparisons to the deluxe, premium or contemporary lines. It can be confusing and when you're spending a lot of money for your cruise vacation, you must get expert advice. If you find a luxury cruise deal you want, lock it in now. If you wait, you lose.
The popular multi-generational premium lines of Holland America, Celebrity and Princess are offering excellent values to Alaska, Europe and the Caribbean.
The contemporary non-stop action mega ships of Royal Caribbean and NCL are tops with families and teens. Their homeport year-round cruises to the Bahamas, Florida and the Caribbean are on sale throughout the new year.
Even though European river cruising has exploded in popularity, there are special incentives available for 2013. These cruises sell out faster than you can imagine. Danube sailings are the first to go - so don't wait. When I was onboard Viking's "Prestige" last year, our Danube sailing was sold-out , with a wait list, for several months before our departure date. www.vikingrivercruises.com ; www.uniworld.com
I consider cruising the best family vacation value and easiest way for every family member to relax, enjoy and do what they want - when they want. I know I sound like a broken record, but you must talk to a cruise expert before booking your trip. (Especially if you are a first-time cruiser or want to experience another cruise line.) Ask about all discounts, incentives and special promotions. Getting onboard the right ship - at the right price - for you and your family is priority number one.
In closing , I'm often asked about travel related gifts and gadgets for stocking stuffers and additional gifts. I particularly like www.Magellans.com and www.travelsmith.com for travel gear, clothing and supplies. For travel guidebooks, go to www.workman.com.
EASY HOLIDAY TRAVEL AND FLYING TIPS:
*Make sure your passport is up-to-date. If you don't have one, get one. (www.passport.gov)
*Know what and how to pack. Pack as light as you can. For a guideline, go to www.tsa.gov
*Pack an organized carry on bag. Bring all prescription medicine and an extra pair of eyeglasses.
*Keep all travel documents handy and readily available.
*Bring something to entertain yourself and your kids. Quiet entertainment.
*Be prepared and arrive early. (2-hours domestic , 3-hours international)
*Make all train travel reservations now. (www.amtrak.com)
*If you haven't made your air reservations yet - there may still be availability - maybe. (www.flyhia.com)
If you're thinking about a holiday getaway to New York City and wondering about any negative after-affects of Hurricane Sandy - you can stop worrying and start planning. NYC is open for business and ready to greet the holiday festivities with a bang.
As I write this story I am sitting on the train (Amtrak Keystone service - www.amtrak.com) returning from a three day NYC press trip and site inspection - and I can tell you in confidence - the city is just as it should be. Crowded, energetic, overwhelming, exciting and festive. New York City - the greatest city in the world - remains just that.
Officiially kicking off with Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade through the long anticipated New Years Eve "ball drop" in Times Square - NYC is a magical winter wonderland for every member of your family.
Before arriving in NYC I recommend doing some homework. Unless you are on a group tour with a set itinerary, you will need a plan of action or you'll find yourself confused , walking around in circles and wasting valuable vacation time. ("DK Eyewitness Travel - New York" is my favorite guide book for touring the city.)
I prefer to experience different hotels when staying in NYC and for this particular visit I stayed at The Kimberly Hotel. A European-style boutique hotel, The Kimberly offers spacious guestrooms and luxurious one and two bedroom suites (ideeal for families) in the heart of midtown's east side. I loved the location, the accommodations and "The Upstairs" - a new rooftop (small-plates) dining and lounge area, plus a cozy outdoor heated garden area with 360-degree views of Manhattan, perfect for daytime and evening observation. Go to www.kimberlyhotel.com and look up the "Holiday Sights, Sounds & Spectacular" savings package complete with tickets to see the Rockettes at Radio City now through Dec. 30th.Hotels in NYC are especially busy Thanksgiving week through New Years, with many sold-out on the weekends leading up to Christmas. Don't fret, there are still hotel rooms available and some terrific holiday packages left.
But don't wait. NYC is not only popular with Americans, it is filled with overseas tourists, most notably from the UK, Europe and South America. In many parts of the world, New York City is a shoppers paradise and quite the bargain. Many savvy foreign visitors bring extra luggage so they can fill with famous designer products and goods. (Step into any hotel lobby, restaurant or department store and you'll hear more accents and foreign languages than you can imagine.)
Some hotels offer shopping discounts at iconic department stores like Bloomingdales, complimentary breakfast, late checkouts, complimentary cocktails or hot cocoa with home baked cookies. If you're a AAA member, be sure to show your card and save at participating hotels.
You can see all the Big Apple sites - including the Empire State Building, Broadway, Times Square, Central Park and Ground Zero - onboard one of the fun and informative New York sightseeing tours such as Gray Line or Circle Line.
The atmosphere at Rockefeller Center Plaza at 50th Street and Fifth Avenue is always festive with the sunken ice-skating rink and gigantic Rockefeller Center Christmas tree - the most famous and worldwide symbol of the NYC holiday season.
If you want to take the family and see "Elf", "A Christmas Story" , "Lion King" or "Annie" on Broadway, get your tickets now, some of the shows are already sold-out.
Of course, my favorite way to see and experience NYC is walking and since you'll want to do some holiday shopping, a stroll along Fifth Avenue will take you by some of the most famous stores (and window displays) in the world. Gucci , FAO Schwarz , Tiffany & Co. ; Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue.
If you're planning to go shoe shopping, Saks Fifth Avenue has a shoe department that is so large, it has it's own zip code. Once you're done shopping, you'll need to rest those tired feet and take a relaxing break ...and I've got the perfect place for you to do just that. Behind Saks' shoe department is the popular Café SFA. Ask for a table by the window and order a Saks Snowflake Cosmo or Winter Royale followed by a Saks Fifth Avenue salad. If you want to really splurge, order the lobster Caesar salad - it was delicious.
For more New York City information, go to www.nycgo.com
Although I spend a lot of time in New York City - I still only know bits and pieces. When I need in-depth NYC travel advice I call Eric Gordon, the president and founder of "Beyond Times Square" a specialty NYC and Hudson River Valley tour company. (www.btsq.com)
Q - Is NYC up and running for the 2012 holiday season?
A - 100% - because the tourist areas are all ready for visitors. There were some parts of Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island that were hit hard and will take some time to get back to normal - but not the major tourist haunts.
Q - What are some of your favorite NYC restaurants?
A - This is a tough one Sandy, because we have so many great restaurants with atmosphere - but I like : Gramercy Tavern ; Po and A.O.C. both in the West Village.
Q - What about families dining on a budget?
A - Moaz Vegetarian - great falafel and French fries plus you add all your own condiments and veggies ; Union Square Carmines - family style Italian and a lot of food ; Wo Hop Chinese in Chinatown.
Q - Theater goers on a time schedule?
A - E & E Grill House ; Pigalle : Uncle Nicks and Lambs Club.
Q - What are your top 3 most popular tours?
A - *Battery to Circle A Tour covering the most popular parts of Manhattan Island south of Central Park *Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge and exploring lower Manhattan and Brooklyn Heights. *Ethnic Noshing (food tasting) tours of Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Q - What is something we need to experience in NYC for this season?
A - You've covered much of it Sandy but I would include going to Bryant Park and having a drink at Celsius- an amazing temporary bar/restaurant set up in the park next to the skating rink. Everyone inside is full of good cheer for the holidays.
I admit it.
I'm an anglophile and I'm not alone.
There seems to be a gigantic love affair with Britain and everything British. Between Kate and Will's royal marriage ; the PBS hit series Downton Abbey ; Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee ; London's Olympic games and the ongoing antics of Prince Harry - we just can't get enough. And although I enjoy all of that…it's the English countryside that I absolutely love.
For many of us, the Cotswolds defines what we imagine the English countryside to be. The endless sheep-clad rolling hills where ancient castles, abbeys, towers and historic manor houses dot the scenery. The villages. The sleepy , thatched roof, gently-curving, honey-colored stone villages that seem more fairy tale than real life. Busy market towns, centuries old pubs overflowing with laughter from the locals and picturesque tea rooms where tea and scones are not just a way of life, it is a highly respected daily ritual.
My husband, Stewart, and I just returned from a trip to the Cotswolds and I can't stop thinking about it. It was - as they say - brilliant!
We flew to London (Heathrow), quickly cleared customs and hopped onboard the super-efficient Heathrow Express to Paddington Station. Once there, we purchased tickets for the 90-minute train ride to Moreton-in-Marsh, a convenient Cotswold hub and well-known for antiquing and quality shoppes.
Our destination was Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire, which has gained the enviable reputation as the "Cotswolds hidden gem".
My friend and colleague, Paull Tickner, recommended Chipping Campden (or "Campden" as the locals say) as an excellent home base for touring the Cotswolds. And since he is an award-winnning specialty UK tour operator plus a travel writer for "Niche Britain" ; "Britain Insider" and "Special Interest Britain" - and he also happens to live in Campden - who am I to argue? And of course, he was right.
We checked into Kiftsgate Cottage at the Cotswold House Hotel (www.cotswoldhouse.com), a beautiful Regency Grade II listed townhouse surrounded by a lovely English garden, in the heart of the village, across from the Market Hall - circa 1627.
We spent our first two days walking and exploring this ancient market town. (A typical English market town has a population of up to 5,000 and dates back to medieval times when the town was legally allowed to sell and/or barter produce and livestock - from neighboring hamlets and villages - inside their official market hall.)
There was so much to see and do in and around Campden, and lucky for us, we had Paull leading the way.
It honestly looks as though time has stood still, especially taking in the architecture of the buildings, as you walk along High Street.
Some of the highlights easily explored by foot include -
*Grevel House - the oldest house in Campden, built in 1367.
*St. James Church - a landmark for miles and considered one of the finest churches in the Cotswolds. Both Chipping Campden and the church were built by wool wealth and if you lift up the heavy wool carpeting by the alter you will see that the great wool merchants tombstones pave the floor.
*Old Silk Mill - filled with talented and creative artisans, jewelers and craftsmen who still follow the ideals of the famous 1902 "Arts and Crafts" movement to the Cotswolds.
*Eight Bells Pub - a 14th century inn serving good pub food and drink. Packed with friendly (and chatty) locals enjoying a pint - or two.
*The Almhouses - Built in 1612 to house 6 poor men and 6 poor women. To this day they are still used by 12 retirees from Campden.
Just a short drive from Campden will take you to -
*Kiftsgate Court Gardens - Since 1918, three generations of women gardeners have made Kiftsgate their family home and an award-winning garden estate. (www.kiftsgate.co.uk)
*Hidcote Manor Garden - If you like gardens, you'll love Hidcote. Considered one of England's best and a "Arts and Crafts" garden masterpiece operated by the National Trust. ( And to think, it all began in the early 1900's when an American mother, Gertrude Johnston and her son, Lawrence came to live in Britain and purchased the Hidcote Manor Estate.) (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hidcote)
*The Pudding Club - popular "meetings" are held weekly when seven traditional puddings are eaten to find the "Pudding of the Night" at the Three Ways House hotel in Mickleton. (www.puddingclub.com)
*Sudeley Castle - A glorious castle filled with national and private treasures boasting a thousand years of English history. Once home to Queen Katherine Parr, the last and surviving wife of King Henry VIII and since 1969, ancestral home to American born, Lady Ashcombe. (My greatest suprise was our unexpected, fascinating and exclusive "sit down and tea" with Lady Ashcombe in her private "apartment" within the massive castle.) (www.sudeleycastle.co.uk)
Since Paull is a British tourism expert, I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions -
Q - What do most visitors to the Cotswolds want to experience?
A - During their stay, visitors want to discover something that makes England tick. The spectacular scenery, the villages, the castles, the walking paths - and a "quieter" way of life. Going to a market town pub, meeting and talking with the locals over a pint. Stopping for tea and just taking it all in.
Q - Is there an "official" Cotswold beverage or food that a visitor must try?
A - You must sample Gloucester cheese, "Old Spot" pork , local trout and Donnington Ales. Local produce is always excellent and enhanced by a game of Skittles with the proceedings to begin with a pint of real ale that's been locally brewed.
Q - I know the Cotswolds offer many things to many people (gardens, history, scenic walks) - how does one find out about tours that may be of specific interest to them?
A - Cotswolds accommodations (such as your lovely Cotswold House Hotel) and food quality is high and the Cotswolds is a cast iron "world-standard" attraction/destination along with Tuscany, the Hamptons or the South of France. It rarely disappoints and holiday time is so precious. For a closer look, check out http://www.cotswolds.com
Are you ready to hear some good news about Spain?
How about the colorful, vibrant and exciting city of Barcelona?
One of Europe's most dynamic cities, Barcelona is like an explosion to the senses.
When we first arrived in the city, what I noticed most was the over-the-top architecture and the overwhelming number of well-dressed, slim and very attractive men and women. (I kept thinking there must be a major modeling or beauty contest going on - but later learned that Barcelonians take great pride in their appearance and daily attire. And it doesn't matter if they are at work, at play or running errands. So as you can imagine, it was fairly easy picking out the tourists - we were all in shorts and sneakers, and I won't even talk about the waistlines.)
So back to the architecture.
More specifically, Antonio Gaudi's whimsical, gothic and Moderist designs. They're everywhere. Homes, buildings, elaborate ironwork gates, rooftops, scuptures and furniture. The most famous (and the most photographed) is " La Sagrada Familia", a twentieth century cathedral. Gaudi took over the project in 1884 and devoted the next 42-years of his life to its construction, until his death in 1926. "La Sagrada Familia" is still not finished - it is a continuing work in progress.
If you're a Picasso fan, then you know he spent key formative years in Barcelona and at the "Museu Picasso" (Picasso Museum) you'll find a 3,600-work permanent collection, including pieces from Picasso's Blue and Rose periods.
Plan to spend some time walking, shopping (authentic and typical Spanish leather-goods and hand-painted artwork are good buys and great souveniors) , people-watching and dining al fresco on Las Ramblas, the city's main - (and best-known) walking boulevard. This promenade overflows with eye-popping flower stalls, mimes, musicians and outdoor cafes. Be sure to see and experience "Boqueria", Barcelona's most spectacular local food market. Sometimes referred to as the "Mercat de Sant Josep", it is the oldest of its kind in Europe. You can spend an afternoon eating your way through all the food vendors and merchants. (Spanish olive oil is a must-buy.)
I would recommend a hop-on/hop-off tour that takes you throughout Barcelona's Old City and the narrow lanes of the "El Barri Gotic" (the Gothic Quarter) with a stop a "La Ciutadella", once a fortress but now the main downtown park. There are also several free Gaudi and Gothic Quarter walking tours, inquire at the tourist bureaus (they are everywhere) or at your hotel.
If it's the often-talked about Spanish or Catalan food you're looking for...you've found it in Barcelona. Mealtimes seem to be the true joy of Spain and world-reknown culinary experts and celebrity chefs believe that Spain offers Mediterranean cooking at its best. It's based on all natural and seasonal ingrediants and spices. Very traditional and incredibly delicious. Sample some of the typical (and simple) dishes such as fish soup or bean stew, served with chunks of bread topped with fresh tomatoes, Spanish olive oil and coarse salt. Lunch is the biggest and most important meal of the day, typically starting after 1:00pm and ending around 3:30pm. But it's the dinner hour that separates the locals from the tourists. If you want to immerse yourself and really get the experience - dinner doesn't start til about 9:00pm and can go to midnight. (If you can't wait til then and must eat by 7pm - check the restaurant times and be prepared to dine alone, or with fellow tourists.) We found ourselves eating tapas (popular bite-size local snacks) and drinking fantastic (and inexpensive) Spanish wines and cava (Spanish champagne) early in the evening and then going to a late, although light, dinner.
Due to Spain's ongoing economic problems, there are some good tour packages available and some at prices way below the norm. Ask you trusted travel agent about air and hotel combination tours, they are usually the best value. Barcelona has also become one of the most popular Mediterrean cruise ports with many sailings beginning or ending there. Check out the excellent August through October cruise specials available now on the most popular cruise lines.
And finally, we were told by everyone - meaning Spanish tour guides, hotel conceriges and fellow travelers - to be very careful as Barcelona has an unusually high number of pickpockets, but no violent crime, directed towards tourists. With that said, you should be mindful and exercise care when visiting any large international city.
Safety Tips -
*Avoid wearing higly visible jewelry, designer handbags & sunglasses, expensive-looking watches and camera equipment.
*Do not use (or display) large denominations when paying street vendors.
*Bags should be well-closed and pulled to the front.
*Never accept food or drinks from strangers.
*Do not walk off alone, especially after dark, in deserted or unfamiliar areas. Keep to the main streets when unsure of your surroundings.
*Use licensed taxis.
Everything you hear about "The Great Land of Alaska" is true!
It is big. It is magnificent. It is wildly beautiful…and I believe every American should experience our 49th state at least once in a lifetime.
There are more mountains than buildings and more wildlife than people. Everything seems to be magnified in Alaska including the highest concentration of glaciers and the longest stretch of coastline in the United States.
It is a must-see destination for spectacular natural scenery, majestic wildlife and historic Native Alaskan culture - and it's an excellent cruise vacation for the entire family.
A cruise to Alaska is anything but typical. Many travelers take a one-week Inside Passage cruise while others combine a coastline cruise with a land tour of the interior. The most popular time to travel throughout Alaska is mid-May thru mid-September when the days are longer and the temperature is warmest.
If this is your year to cruise Alaska you're in for a real treat! Alaska offers a huge variety of extremely popular port excursions that sell out on every cruise. Be sure to talk to your travel agent and lock in your favorite tours before you set sail.
Here are a few of my favorite Alaskan port excursions -
Well-known as the Salmon Capital of the World (a great place to buy and ship salmon home at a fair price), it also boasts the largest collection of totem poles anywhere on the planet. Be sure to check out the Totem Heritage Center and Totem Bight State Park. If you're lucky, you'll be able to watch a certified master carver (fewer than 50 certified carvers in Alaska) at work. Ketchikan is also an easy walking town, featuring a rustic boardwalk on historic Creek Street, famous as the former "red light district". If you like adventure - take off from Ketchikan's bustling harbor to experience a great thrill aboard an awe-inspiring seaplane flight to Misty Fjords National Monument. I guarantee it'll take your breath away.
Originally called Harrisburg (before co-founder Richard Harris fell out of favor with the locals, who then turned their allegiance to Joe Juneau), Juneau is Alaska's capital city. Due to its rugged mountainside position, it can not be reached by road, only by sea and air. I recommend a walking tour beginning at the State Capital building with stops at the Wickersham House , Alaska State Museum (loved the Museum shop for authentic craft souvenirs) and the Governor's Mansion (where a relatively unknown governor named Sarah Pallin once lived with her family a few years ago). I don't think you can be in Juneau without visiting the gigantic bluish-white Menenhall Glacier, the most easily accessible glacier in Alaska, or taking the Mt. Roberts Tramway for a bird's-eye view of the harbor. Before you head back to the ship, enjoy an award-winning Alaskan Amber at the Alaskan Brewing Company or another busy downtown pub.
In 1898, Skagway was a crowded Gold Rush boomtown with a Wild West attitude and reputation. By the mid 1930's, historic preservation began. Today, more money and more than 20 times the visitors come to Skagway in just one year than they did during the entire Gold Rush days. In my opinion there are two things to do in Skagway - take a walking tour to see all the old buildings and historic Gold Rush places, and get onboard The White Pass and Yukon Route train. Considered an international historic civil engineering landmark train trip passing waterfalls, glaciers, tunnels and natural mountain terrain. The vintage parlor cars will take you from the dock to the Trail of '98, including Dead Horse Gulch and cliff-hanging turns up to the White Pass Summit, the boundary between Canada and the United States. You can sit back, relax and take in the scenery while learning all about the exciting Gold Rush days.
Considered one of the world's best places to view wildlife, Sitka is a picturesque town reflecting the history of the early Russian settlers. My top tour choices in Sitka are the Sitka National historic Park (totem poles are everywhere and seem to appear out of nowhere) ; Alaska Raptor Center, a flight training center that looks and feels like a rain forest and where injured bald eagles (and other birds) are nursed back to health ; the Russian Bishop's House ; and St. Michael's Cathedral. Be sure to get your picture taken in front of the cathedral, Sitka's most photographed site.
Alaska's largest city is a thriving metropolis surrounded by the stunning snow-capped Chugach Mountains. You can easily explore Anchorage by foot with visits to The Anchorage Museum of History and Art and the traditional villages at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. If you're in need of some exercise, rent bikes and ride (or walk) the 11-mile Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. Enjoy the scenery and keep your eyes open for moose - we passed by three of them. The most famous hotel in Anchorage is the rustic Hotel Captain Cook and a good choice for a relaxing drink and a view to remember is the popular Crow's Nest overlooking Cook Inlet, downtown Anchorage and the Chugach Mountains. You never know who you might bump into - Harrison Ford was leaving as we were walking in and apparently a frequent traveler to Alaska.
We all know the trials and tribulations connected with present day air travel. We're reminded every time we pick up a newspaper, watch the news and listen to the radio.
We all know about the higher fares, extra baggage fees, airline labor wars, attempted bomb plots, fewer flights, safety concerns with air-traffic controllers, bird strikes, over crowded flights, rude behavior - it's enough to make you, well, afraid to fly.
But here's the good news. If you do have a fear of flying, ( it is the second leading phobia in the United States, with over 25-million of us) you can change that.
You may not be able to change how the FCC or the airlines conduct business, but you can change your fear of flying.
We've all been there. That uncomfortable feeling when we experience turbulence or thunderstorms or a sudden thump - and we're 35,000 feet in the air with no control at all.
Well, stop worrying!
The chances of being killed in an airplane crash are one in 11-million while flying domestically and one in 44-million if you fly internationally.
Right now is the safest period in U.S. aviation history. There are more than 67-million domestic flights each year, and only one commercial flight crashed in over 3-years. (That was the February 2009 Colgan Air accident that killed 50 people near Buffalo, NY. ) These numbers are stunning. And since our top fear "aviophobia or aerophobia" is crashing, the numbers are overwhelmingly in our favor of that not happening.
There are excellent fear of flying resources available. Of course the internet is overloaded with instant advice and solutions, but I like the convenience of a good "self-help" book that you can bring onboard the plane and refer to when needed. Two of my favorites include - "Real Life Fearful Flyer's Stories" by Capt. Ron Nielsen and "Flying Fear Free" by Dr. Sandra Pollino. I have interviewed both authors and have taken their expert advice when I have found myself feeling anxious or nervous while flying. Knowing and being familiar with airline safety stats and aviation facts works for me. It calms me down immediately.
There is so much to see and do in this great big glorious world of ours. Don't let your fear of flying stop you and your family from experiencing domestic or international travel memories. Summer vacations are right around the corner - get out there and enjoy…you deserve it!
Favorite Fear of Flying Tips -
* Learn aviation safety statistics and facts.
* Trust the airline industry. The FAA insures safe and secure flying by constant and ongoing - inspecting, testing, certifying and monitoring the people who work in the safety related areas of aviation. Safety is no accident. There are no "maybes" when it comes to air safety.
* When boarding the plane, mention to the flight attendant that you get a bit nervous and ask if you can talk to a pilot. Pilots are excellent at calming your fears and always happy to reassure you. (While flying home from Florida a few weeks ago the person next to me said she was up all night due to her flying fears and hadn't flown in several years. Before being seated she talked to the pilots in the cockpit, was calmed down and slept the entire flight.)
* Turbulence is normal. Nobody likes it, but if you fly a lot you're probably going to feel it. (A Captain once told me to think of turbulence the same way as driving over a bumpy road. I do and it doesn't bother me at all.) * Desensitize yourself before flying. Many fearful flyers go to a busy airport just to watch all the planes takeoff and land. After a while it becomes routine and you begin to feel comfortable with the whole process.
* Practice breathing and relaxation exercises. Take slow, deep breaths through your nose. Fill your lungs from the bottom up. Pause, and then exhale slowly. Do this a couple times and you'll feel better - guaranteed.
* Focus on the positive. Think about your upcoming wonderful vacation and relaxing days off work. Occupy your mind with a good book or magazine, listen to "soothing" music or strike up a conversation.
* And finally, don't be embarrassed. Fearful flyers tend to be perfectionists, intelligent and successful - so you're in good company.
SUMMER FLYING TIPS -
* If you haven't made your airline reservations, do it now. Experts predict higher airfares and less flights, especially to Europe, June thru August.
* Don't assume flying from Harrisburg (HIA) is going to be more expensive. Check them out first and then compare your total cost - including gas, driving time, parking, hotel if needed, meals, etc. For my money, nothing is more convenient or easy-to-manage than HIA. (www.flyhia.com)
* Know what and how to pack (For a guideline go to www.tsa.gov)
* To feel less cramped onboard, opt for an aisle seat.
* Check flight status and check in online the night before your flight if possible.
* Pack an organized carry-on bag. Bring all prescription medicine and an extra pair of eyeglasses.
* Have your documents (boarding pass, passport) easily and readily available.
* Wear slip-on shoes (easy on & off for screening)
* Arrive on time. Better yet, arrive early. (2 hours domestic, 3 hours international)
* Bring something to entertain yourself (and your kids)-books, magazines, coloring books, portable DVD player with headphones, etc (Quiet entertainment.)
* When in doubt, leave it out. Pack as light as you can.
* Think before you speak. Rude and belligerent behavior will not be tolerated and will result in delays.
* Before traveling abroad be sure to contact your credit card company and advise them on your upcoming travel plans.
* If you don't have a passport, get one. (www.passport.gov)
* Some countries require that your passport be valid for six months following your return date. Double-check with your travel agent.
Florida's climate and natural resources have been attracting tourists, from near and far, for longer than anyone really knows.
Florida is the kind of destination that brings an immediate image to all of us. Beautiful beaches ; palm trees ; family vacations ; world-class resorts ; warm weather ; tropical breezes and glorious sunshine. (Hence - "The Sunshine State".)
Florida is a really big state - I'm talking 50,000 square miles of America's favorite vacation land. And you'll know what I'm talking about if you ever drive on I-95 from "Mile 378 Southbound to Miami" or if you decide to take Amtrak's Silver Service from Tampa/Miami to Jacksonville. (We took Amtrak's Silver Palm several years ago from Ft. Lauderdale to Philadelphia and it seemed as though we would never get out of Florida - but that's another travel story.)
Basically Florida is divided into 4 separate regions. North Florida , Central Florida , South Florida and The Keys.
* Jacksonville is a favorite North Florida region with popular Atlantic Beach and Neptune Beach. Home to "The Players" championship, golfers have been drawn to Ponte Vedra Beach for years. (www.visitjacksonville.com)
* Central Florida is best known as lake country (554 at last count) and of course - the most famous themed parks in the world. You got it - Disney, Universal and SeaWorld - and lucky for us, beginning May 24th, Frontier Airlines will be flying low-fare, nonstop from Harrisburg to Orlando. (www.frontierairlines.com ; www.flyhia.com)
* As a frequent Ft. Lauderdale and Miami cruiser, I spend a lot of time in South Florida. I am always amazed how much there is going on in the area and how there is always something new to experience. South Florida is all about glam, glitz, food and wine. If you're looking for a great night of dining, check out the "Chef's Night series at Da Campo Osteria" at "il Lugano". The chef-driven cooking class features the art of Tuscan fare complete with dinner, wine and olive oil to take home. (www.illugano.com) I've always loved staying a few nights ,pre-cruise, particularly in Ft. Lauderdale. Hyatt's Pier 66 sits on the intercoastal and reminds me of "old Florida" while the Ritz-Carlton is all about high-end luxury, discreet service and quiet elegance overlooking the beach and famed beach boulevard. (Tip - both hotels offer excellent overnight cruise packages and special savings throughout the year, especially during low-season, June through September.) (www.hyatt.com ; www.ritzcarlton.com) I don't think you can talk about South Florida without including "the rich really are different" Gold Coast favorite - Palm Beach. Of course there's shopping on swanky Worth Avenue and touring the Flager estate - but if you can afford the splurge, staying at the iconic Breakers hotel is truly a travel memory you'll treasure. (Tip - it's the luxury properties nowadays offering great savings, particularly on getaway packages.) (www.thebreakers.com)
* Heading southwest from the mainland, with126-miles of overseas highway connecting 40 isles, is best known as the Florida Keys. Experts claim it is America's most unusual scenic drive crossing 42-bridges with the Gulf of Mexico on one side, the Atlantic on the other. Famous for fishing, diving, natural tropical environs and of course, popular Key West. An excellent walking and touring town, picturesque Old Key West is a must - with stops at President Harry Truman's Little White House , the surrounding Truman Annex, the Hemmingway House and the old Key West Lighthouse. Mallory Square and Duval Street - the downtown of Key West - are filled with shops, art galleries, alfresco cafes, theaters and bars. Busy and diverse Duval Street is another popular walking stretch boasting the touristy Sloppy Joe's bar and the Southernmost Point (90-miles from Cuba) at the very end of Duval. Having been to Key West several times, I've found the following to be true : Everything and anything goes in Key West (meaning fantastic people-watching). The sunsets are absolutely glorious. Key lime pie tastes different and better than what we get at home. The island is truly a boater's paradise. The locals are laid-back and love to party. (Tip - Get your picture taken at both the Southernmost Point marker and during a sunset at Mallory Square.) www.visitflorida.com